Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Degraded Culture: An Explanation

     “Politics is downstream from culture.” – Andrew Breitbart

     Time was, America’s large cities were its safest places. Their residents routinely walked the streets even at night, without fear of the consequences. Assaults on the law-abiding were infrequent, and those that occurred in public would elicit an intervention by those who witnessed them.

     Time was, Americans routinely left their doors unlocked. They didn’t feel the subliminal fear most of us suffer today about being robbed or invaded. Some would even leave the car key in the ignition, for really, who would be so venal as to steal a car?

     Time was, Americans were polite toward one another, even toward those they disliked. Deliberate insults weren’t rendered in public. No one would crow audibly at an enemy’s bad fortune. There was a sense of obligation toward one’s community that expressed itself openly and naturally toward those suffering times of trouble: with casseroles, and gifts of clothing and heating oil, and occasionally with direct monetary assistance. Men rendered jobless by an economic downturn were expected to “pound the pavement” until they’d found new work. Their wives were expected to pull the oars alongside them, in whatever ways they could, to help keep the family afloat.

     Time was, Americans expected their public officials to be honest – at least, that peculation and corruption, once discovered, would be punished.

     I’m old enough to remember the tail end of those times.

     Yes, things are different today. The differences are broad and deep. Nor can they be eliminated by any simple, cleanly applied remedy. The situation calls to mind something Garet Garrett wrote about a different, but analogical situation:

     Now regard the credit reservoir as a lake fed by thousands of little community springs, and at the same time assume the point of view of a government hostile to the capitalistic system of free private enterprise. You see at once that the lake is your frustration. Why? Because so long as the people have the lake and control their own capital and can do with it as they please the government's power of enterprise will be limited, and limited either for want of capital or by the fact that private enterprise can compete with it.

     So you will want to get rid of the lake. But will you attack the lake itself? No; because even if you should pump it dry, even if you should break down the retaining hills and spill it empty, still it would appear again, either there or in another place, provided the springs continued to flow.

     [From Garrett’s essay “The Revolution Was”]

     The striking lack of fear and anxiety among Americans of that earlier time was not a primary phenomenon but a consequence: specifically, of the widespread American faith in God and belief in the obligatory nature of the Ten Commandments.

  • Children’s moral education began about when they were toilet trained and explicitly incorporated their parents’ faith.
  • Religious schooling was far more common than today.
  • No public-school teacher dared to mock, much less condemn, Christianity or Judaism.
  • Divorce was uncommon and cast a stigma upon the couple, especially if there were minor children.
  • Our popular culture didn’t celebrate, promote, or otherwise tolerate departures from the general standard for moral, respectful behavior.
  • When some child or teen’s public conduct merited criticism or correction, any proximate adult would step in to supply it – and the sprat’s parents wouldn’t dare to object.
  • Radio and television frequently broadcast “public-service pitches” that exhorted the audience to “Go to the church of your choice,” and posited that “The family that prays together stays together.”

     I could go on, but I think the point has been established. Up to about half a century ago, the American culture was profoundly Christian. There were warts on it, of course. There was a deep distrust of atheists and agnostics, surely more than they deserved. Neighborhood gossip could ruin an individual without just cause. The few members of minority faiths often had a hard time gaining acceptance in their communities. But there was also general public tranquility: an astonishing degree of it by contemporary standards. As Rose Wilder Lane observed in The Discovery of Freedom, people’s lives and property weren’t protected by the police and the threat of discovery, indictment, and trial, but by the overwhelmingly general respect everyone felt for life and property.

     The wellspring from which that respect flowed was Christianity.

     Yet we weren’t a “preachy” people. Our Christianity was expressed in deeds rather than words. The televangelists were yet to come. Perhaps they were a reaction to the diminution of our Christian observance and ethics. It’s impossible to be sure.

     Things are certainly different today.


     A couple of days ago I commented on things “to be deplored.” It was a bit whimsical of me, but it was stimulated by an essay that touched a particularly sensitive nerve. It’s on my mind again this morning for two reasons.

     The first stimulant is a recent comment posted against that essay, which was about outright piracy of a writer’s work and the financial hardship he’d suffered thereby:

     I’m glad to hear the author is back in the day job market. Now maybe he’ll do something that’s actually useful rather than writing mindless SF/Fantasy books. A very good reason to get rid of fiction copyright entirely – at least some will still get written, but the practitioners will also do useful work.

     Never mind whether the commenter has ever been stolen from; that’s irrelevant. What on Earth possessed him to write something so mealy-mouthed and mean-spirited, as a comment to a subject in which he can’t possibly have an interest?

     The second is a backlash I received from a comment on this PJ Media piece. A fellow who described himself as “A Christian and so far left that when I enter the room Republicans turn into stone” ridiculed me for defending Sarah Palin, saying in closing that she “spreads hate” and therefore receives it in reply. I was dumbfounded – on what occasion has Governor Palin ever promoted or promulgated hatred? – but more by the fellow’s claim of Christianity while himself promulgating hatred of a Christian woman.

     It left me in a state better imagined than described.


     I’ve written before, on several subjects and in several fora, that you can’t get people to change their ways for the sake of a future they don’t expect to see. But it appears that in cultural terms at least, “the future” is now. We’ve become so degraded that nothing gets any respect. Certainly the norms of public conduct once so scrupulously observed by Americans two generations ago are no longer deemed binding. How could anyone be surprised that Rose Wilder Lane’s observation has lost so much of its force?

     How could anyone be surprised that our public streets are unsafe, that homes’ doors are now locked nearly all the time, that workers routinely steal from their employers in various ways, that men and women no longer respect one another, that first marriages are called “starter marriages and divorce is regarded as virtually unavoidable, that preteens experiment with oral sex in school bathrooms, and that while parents must live in fear of being denounced to the Child Welfare and Protection fascists, the public schools for which they’re mulcted so severely that they cannot afford any of the alternatives have become the most dangerous places any child could go?

     How could anyone be surprised that American public officials are now assumed to be liars and thieves?

     Si rationem requiris, circumspice, Gentle Reader. Where has America’s Christianity gone? Where, now that He has been judicially expelled from the public square, is Christ? Do we still honor Him and keep His Commandments? Is He even respected in the majority of our churches today?

     More anon.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Francis, We need to expect this to get worse...

    2 Timothy 3:1 But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, 3 having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, 4 betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, 5 having an appearance of godliness but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.

    Some political commentary:

    Habakuk 1:2 How long, O God, must I cry for help, but you do not hear?
    How long must I ask for help from violence, but you do not intervene?
    3 Why do you make me witness wrongdoing?
    And why do you tolerate oppression?
    Why are destruction and violence before me?
    And why do quarreling and conflict abound?
    4 So law is paralyzed,
    And justice is never carried out.
    For the wicked surround the righteous;
    That is why justice is perverted.
    5 “Look among the nations and pay attention!
    Stare in amazement and be astounded;
    For something will happen in your days
    That you will not believe even if it is told to you.
    6 For here I am raising up the Chal·de′ans,
    The ruthless and impetuous nation.
    They sweep through vast stretches of the earth
    To seize homes not theirs.

    As you recall Chaldea is the region containing Babylon.

    It's part of the plan...

    Revelation 17:17 For God put it into their hearts to carry out his thought, yes, to carry out their one thought by giving their kingdom to the wild beast, until the words of God will have been accomplished.

    There is nothing new under the sun.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think C.S. Lewis said it well:

    "Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan."

    Our society has shifted allegiances, and we're suffering the consequences.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The only thing a Christian can do nowadays is lead by example and resist the fact that our political ruling class is attempting to set themselves up to be worshipped in stead of God. There are no morals accepted anymore except by those who still follow Christ's commandments. Religion is becoming a minority everywhere especially with the Catholics now being led by a secular leftist who wishes to change God's word to better fit with modernity. It is a sad world we live in and it is only going to get worse.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fran,

    Observe your PJMedia comment respondents post history in that thread. That commenter is your typical grade AA troll. None of his or her posts have anything of substance, make no arguments, and provide any proof. They just insult and provoke, and if you look at the overall tenor of the comments there, that one commenter thoroughly derailed any meaningful conversation to be had.
    Would that PJMedia provide a means of reporting such people, then the rest of us could vote the obvious troll out of the comments.

    ReplyDelete

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